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A version of this story first appeared in the May 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Marc Maron has spent decades perfecting a comedy brand built on struggle. Even as his eponymous semiautobiographical IFC series returns May 8 for an expanded second season, he is not entirely comfortable with success — which explains why he remains in a modest home and drives a 2006 Toyota Camry: “I’m a little afraid, because of being a comic my whole life, that it’ll all be taken away.”
His WTF With Marc Maron podcast regularly draws A-list guests (Robin Williams, Will Ferrell) and an impressive 820,000 weekly downloads, and his stand-up act has been packing houses around the country. And now that “Marc Maron, the public personality” has been established, he’d like to do more with him. Here, Maron, 50, makes his case for a late-night show, be it on IFC or — are you listening, Leslie Moonves? — CBS.
What is the biggest change we’ll see in season two?
In the first season I wanted to play as close to my life as possible, and this season we were able to take a little more creative license. I was very wary to integrate my life as a comedian into the first season because it had been done by so many others. This season we did. There is one episode that will be a very relevant story to comedians where I accidentally do another comic’s line and I don’t realize it until afterward. It’s every comic’s biggest fear, and there are repercussions.
Have you ever stolen a joke?
Uh … yes. But there’s a difference between a guy who’s a pathological joke thief and a guy who accidentally does some other guy’s line. The biggest problem is that in this predatory culture of access and social networking, if some guy makes an honest mistake, it could be exploited and possibly ruin part of their career. All comics walk around paranoid: “Could that have been …?” “Is that …?” There are tens of thousands of comics, and we’re all drawing from the same pool. It’s dicey, but I put myself on the line with it and try to address it.
IFC chief Jennifer Caserta said she would love to have you do more there. Is a late-night show in your future?
I did a pilot called the Marc Maron Project at Comedy Central when I was younger. My guests were Dave Chappelle, he must have been 18 or 19, and Steven Weber. I remember wanting to do it differently, wanting it to feel like me, but I’m not sure I knew who I was. Now, because I know what I do, I have no real interest in the bells and whistles and the sort of tired format of the talk show, or what they call a talk show on television.
There is something fascinating to me about The Tomorrow Show [a talk show that aired on NBC from 1973 to 1982 that featured intimate one-on-one interviews between guests and host Tom Snyder], and I have been thinking a lot with my partner, Brendan McDonald. We’ve had in-depth conversations and formulated a way we think we can do a talk show that would honor the tone. The tricky thing is how do you create that intimacy on television, which is not really a medium that necessarily honors that. I think we have a way to do it. I’d love IFC to roll the dice with it and let me do six to 10 shows to see if we can pull it off. I don’t really understand why they wouldn’t try that. In my mind, there’s nothing to lose. Really, what could that cost?
There is now an opening at 12:30 a.m. on CBS. Whom would you like to see fill it?
Aside from me? (Laughs.) I’d love the opportunity. I do know that when they announced [Stephen] Colbert for [David] Letterman, I was like, ‘Of course. That makes sense. That guy’s great.’ Ten years ago, I don’t know if I could have been happy for anybody, but it completely makes sense to me.
What’s your pitch to CBS CEO Moonves?
Let’s not focus on broad comedy bits and see if we can engage performers and celebrities in intimate and resonant conversation. There wouldn’t be a premium on laughs per minute or ridiculous sketches but more on naturally funny moments that can occur in real conversation. And Les would say, “So wait — no comedy?”
You have been a guest on many late-night shows. Do you have a favorite?
Conan O’Brien and I have had an on-air relationship since the mid-’90s, and he has always been very generous. With David Letterman, that was such a grail for comics, and it still is to me. And with [Jimmy] Fallon, he seems to be genuinely having a good time. Usually you work with the segment producer on bits before you go on, but when I did his show for the first time, no segment producer called me. The producer was like: “He knows what you’re up to. Just go out there — he’s good.” [Craig] Ferguson is the opposite. He’ll have a segment producer ask you like 100 questions: “What was your childhood dog’s name? What was the first car you had?” And the weirdest thing is that out of all the guys that do this, he’s the one where there’s a good chance he might not let you talk at all!
Did your childhood dog come up?
No. I really don’t know what the intention is. It’s either so he’s ready or so you don’t know what the f— is going to happen when you go out there. The second time I did it, I was like, “I know what I’m going to do: I’m just going to steamroll him. I’m going to meet him where he is, and just go.”
You’ve built your following on a brand of, if not failure, struggle. How do you maintain that brand with all of your recent success?
Certainly the validation has given me some real self-esteem around having committed my life to doing this, to doing what I do; but no matter what kind of success happens, it’s not so much that it brings its own problems, which it does to some degree, but I haven’t really changed my life much. There are still the existing issues that are always sort of prominent in being alive and getting older and relationships. I’m not married. I don’t have children. I still have many of the same issues I always did. Some are better, but I don’t think that dialogue really stops, and I haven’t really gone out of my way to change anything. It’s not like I’m buying a house. I might buy a new car, but I haven’t. I’m a little nervous to do anything, to make any changes.
What does seem to have changed is a bitterness that appears to have disappeared?
I have friends that are bigger stars and whatnot, but I no longer really judge myself against that. That’s a big change. I think that, if anything, some of my friends might be sad to see me let go of my paralyzing jealousy and anger for no reason. And I’m also like 50 years old. I mean, how long are you going to be that guy? It wasn’t even that I was bitter; it was just an insecurity, and I think some of that insecurity has dissipated.
How about those in your family? How are they responding to your success, and their portrayals on Maron?
Not great. I mean, my mother’s good. My father’s not great. My brother is okay, though we’ll see after this [season]. But those characters are based on them, but they’re really not. Why my father had issues with Judd Hirsch playing him, who is arguably probably a better father than he is, I don’t know!
When it comes to your interviews, who remains atop your wish list of WTF subjects?
There’s a point where I feel like I wish I had enough juice to where Lorne Michaels would want to do the show because I have been publicly obsessed with him. I’d like to get Albert Brooks, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart, Larry David — Letterman, too. But people are like, “Just go get Lorne Michaels.” I’m like, “What are you talking about? Who do you think I am? I’m still working out of my garage.”
Have you approached him?
Yeah, I called up his office a couple of weeks ago! I got a “I’ll call him back.”
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